Sick in Kuching, Borneo Malaysia Kuching / Malaysia

We had already spent more than three months in peninsular Malaysia, but we’d heard that Malaysian Borneo was completely different.  And in some ways, it was different, with the numerous indigenous cultures that are prevalent, and being closer to many national parks. However, on our 10 day visa run there, we still found it to be distinctly Malaysian, with some of the same quirks as the peninsular side. They’re just small things, but they’re quirks we’ve experienced everywhere we’ve been in Malaysia. For example:

  • In Malaysian houses, bathrooms have a hot water switch you need to flip before you walk in, in order to turn on the hot water.
  • Showers and toilets share the same room, with no divider, causing the floor (and usually the toilet seat) to get wet and usually stay wet all day long. (That means wet feet every time you need to wash your hands or use the loo).
  • Beds are made without top sheets and only a blanket or duvet for a cover. Or, if sheets are used, they’re used only on the bottom half of the bed, impossible to pull up to cover you completely.
  • “Fresh” fruit drinks ordered at restaurants and hawker stalls are usually watery, full of sugar and don’t taste fresh at all.
  • The food has great spices and flavors (you can find Roti Canai!), but is generally very greasy and tastes unhealthy. Fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to find anywhere (except the weekend markets or chain grocery stores). Of course, we’re a bit more picky about health food now that we’re used to Ubud.
  • Hot and very humid weather

That said, Kuching was a lovely city for the most part and we enjoyed most of our time there. Unfortunately, on the second night, Jen and Marie got very sick. Marie vomited. Jen felt nauseous and wasn’t feeling up to going anywhere, so we spent the next day in the hotel. As the symptoms were mostly digestive, we thought it might have been caused by something they ate. But then they got fevers and their bodies started to ache. They got chills, a painful sinus headache and a runny nose. And a few days later, I caught the same disease, and Emily and Aysia followed shortly after. It felt like a very bad case of the flu, and was quite painful.

After a few days, some of our symptoms got bad enough we started wanting medication. We realized if it were a viral infection, a doctor couldn’t do anything for us. And if it were a bacterial infection, he would just prescribe antibiotics, which we like to avoid where possible. There was some paracetemol (Tylenol) available at the house, but it wasn’t broken down into kids portions and we didn’t really want to take it anyway (did you know Tylenol is completely synthetic and made from coal tar?). We had a few essential oils with us, and I’m sure we could have found a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic if we wanted to go somewhere, but because Jen had mostly recovered by that point, we knew this wasn’t a terminal illness and the rest of us would recover soon as well. So we didn’t take anything and were fine. Isn’t it amazing how quickly our bodies can heal themselves with adequate rest and healthy food?

Still, being sick together didn’t make for the best family vacation. Not only did we miss out on several activities we would have liked to do, we were also in pain, irritable, and impatient with each other. It was more of a struggle than normal to think positive thoughts and enjoy our time. To make things worse, the only Internet we had was on my cell phone, but the reception at the farm house we were staying was so poor that we only got 10-30kbps (when it worked at all). Compare that to the slow 768kb (soon to be 2,000kb!!!) we get in Bali and the 12,000kb we got in Japan. It’s slower than dial-up. So we watched some movies, swatted at mosquitos (and still got bitten), and spent lots of time resting in bed.

Despite the unpleasantries, we tried to enjoy it as much as we could. Just a few days before we got sick, our family came up with a new motto, “Life is for enjoying. That’s the only thing it’s for.” Repeating this to ourselves and each other was a good reminder to make sure we weren’t just going through the motions of life, but actually enjoying the experiences we were having in the moment. I tried using the pain of my sickness as an experiment to see if I could actually “enjoy” the pain in my body by focusing on the sensation of pain itself and feeling it out rather than resenting the pain. And I was able to “enjoy” it to some degree, but it was a constant effort to do so. Fortunately, we all survived the sickness and made it home safely. (Yay!)

So while we were in Kuching for 10 days, we only had about three days where all of us were feeling well enough to go out. In those three days, we still managed to pack in some fun activities.

Sarawak River Cruise

Us with the dancers

The Sarawak River Cruise was a leisurely and enjoyable way to see some of the major sites of the city, although most were right around the dock. There were some nice photo opportunities, and a short dance performance on the boat as well. Aysia enjoyed walking around the couch in the middle. And Marie made friends with a girl from Germany. After the cruise, we poked in at the cinema and watched “Brave” which was recently released.

Sarawak Cultural Village

The Sarawak Cultural Village gave us a glimpse into the lives of the different indigenous tribes in Sarawak. We got to enter their longhouses and round houses, hear their music, see their dances, and eat their food. Our favorite activity was blowing into a blow pipe to shoot darts about 20 feet away. I actually hit a tin can on my third try! I can see how it would be a useful weapon.

Semenggoh Wildlife Center

The Semenggoh Wildlife Center provided an opportunity for us to see orangutan in their natural habitat. Many rescued (and now wild) orangutan choose to visit the sanctuary occasionally during the twice daily feedings, and you can watch them swing through the trees to get to their food. Having also visited Orangutan Island on peninsular Malaysia, this one was more of a distance viewing experience, but also seemed more natural for the orangutan as they had much more room and privacy.

Sarawak Museum

The Sarawak Museum was fairly old, but gave us a glimpse into Sarawak’s history, nature, and people. While there, the kids got swarmed by dozens of Muslim students in white hijab who were intrigued by the blonde hair and were all trying to get a better look. They’re all kind of tired of being at the center of attention. We also visited the art museum in the same complex, which had some interesting pieces.

And last but not least, Jennifer and I celebrated our 10th anniversary while in Kuching with a lovely dinner without the kids (we left them in the hotel room with a pizza and just took Aysia with us). It’s amazing how fast time flies, and how each year just gets better than the last.

That was all in the city of Kuching. We also spent 6 days west of Kuching at a farm house, but were sick the entire time so didn’t make it to any of the national parks or caves. Overall, we’re glad we could go on this trip, but we don’t really care to go back. We like it better here in Bali. :)

Enjoy the pictures and videos below.

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in each moment.


  1. Oh my gosh, Aysia is getting so big! And so proud of herself walking around that table :) And Marie and Emily will soon have hair as long as Rapunzul! No wonder the students wanted a closer look at their golden locks :) And how long has it been since your hair was that long?

    So sorry you weren’t feeling well on this adventure – and especially were stuck sick (never travel without your On Guard blend!) and without a decent internet connection so you could update your blog. I’m so happy you have now.

    What are the two beautiful buildings viewed from the river cruise. One looks like a mosque? What is the other?

    In the music and dance, I can see the Malaysian influence in Bali music and dance. Very interesting…

    Michelle has got to see the picture of the cat statues….

    • My hair has never been this long. Ever. I’m also messily parting it in the middle now. It’s fun to try something new, and I’m tired of looking like a Mormon missionary. :)

      We’ll definitely be traveling with On Guard next trip!

      Yes, one building is a mosque, and the other is the State Legislative Council building.

  2. Jennifer Pearce Says: July 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Glad we could see what Kuching was like. I’m sure we would have enjoyed it even more if we would have felt healthier. So happy we all survived though and are able to recover here in Ubud. I consider us lucky to have seen as much as we did with the way we were feeling. I really enjoyed eating at that restaurant at our hotel for our anniversary, too.

  3. That river cruise looked great! I love that they had the dancers on there. Aysia sure seemed to enjoy it. Speaking of Aysia, she is getting SO dang big. She still seems as happy as ever… I love her big smile. :)

    So sorry that you were all ill for a little bit there. Glad it didn’t last TOO long. I’m actually the same way with medicine- I rarely take it, because I find I can heal just as easily on my own (and sometimes with the aid of mother’s essential oils).

    What fun pictures. I love seeing how much the girls are growing. And Jen- you look so great!

  4. I have to say ditto to Ashley’s post. :-) So sorry you were all ill. Very happy you were able to see some interesting things and take the great pictures and video to share with us.
    I can’t believe how the girls are growing!!! Especially Aysia.

  5. Sounds like you may have gotten dengue fever. In the tropics, you really have to be careful of mosquitoes and dengue fever. The hemorrhagic variety is quite dangerous, and you don’t want to get dengue twice, as it is usually much worse the second time. Just avoid places without screening. The dengue mosquito is active more by day, and especially during sunrise and sunset, but can bite at any time. Always sleep with a canopy, unless the room is well screened–cracks under doors and such should be blocked.

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